Al Bowman, a former president of Illinois State University, has been tapped to lead the Illinois Board of Higher Education. His appointment comes as higher education institutions have seen their budgets slashed and enrollment decline, so it’s hard to know whether to congratulate him.
“You know, I’ve been getting that from people,” Bowman laughs.
He is going into his new job eyes wide open. Illinois ranked number two in the nation for net loss of college students.
And that was before the state’s two-year budget impasse that strangled school budgets and made families even more skeptical about entrusting their little darlings to Illinois colleges and universities.
“Yeah, it’s not a new problem,” Bowman says. “When I was president for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013, it’s something I talked about constantly. I saw it as a negative for the state.”
He stepped down from the ISU presidency for medical reasons, but continued teaching part-time. More recently, he has provided professional development on a volunteer basis through the American Council on Education, in Washington, D.C.
Tackling the state’s college enrollment crisis tops his to-do list.
“I think the reason it’s being talked about now is that, as the pool of 18-year-olds has shrunk in the Midwest, and as competition has increased for students, there’s a lot of concern that some of the public universities may not be able to meet their enrollment target,” he says. He says he wants to help the governor and legislature understand that such an impasse was harmful and can’t happen again. Bowman succeeds James Applegate, who resigned earlier this year.